Aftermath (Book 2): Aftermath, page 1part #2 of Aftermath Series
Aftermath: EMP Post Apocalyptic Fiction- Book 2
Prequel- Aftermath Book 0
8. Route 29
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Prequel- Aftermath Book 0
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In a flash, an EMP blast disables North America’s entire east coast. Separated from her husband and daughter, thirty-nine-year-old psychologist Naomi Baxter finds herself trapped on the streets of Philadelphia. The brutal February cold gnaws at her skin as she strives to reunite with her family. Having a keen understanding of the human condition, Naomi knows that she must find her daughter before anarchy consumes the city.
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** *The Free prequel is available in the front matter and TOC of this book***
31 Days after the EMP…
Boots shuffled through snow and dirt.
Like swaying black pillars, hundreds of silhouetted trees bent to the will of the howling wind. Cinder-like snow flurries drifted all around, constantly changing course with the unpredictable gusts.
“Pick up the pace, girls. Unless you enjoy freezing to death,” the woman named Selena said with a wry smile as she prodded Trinity’s back with the point of her long knife.
Feeling the tip of the blade through her puffy winter jacket, thirteen-year-old Trinity Baxter stiffened and quickened her steps.
Her bare hand clenched the thin, icy handle of the hooded lantern. The glass casing protected the small burning wick within. Its orange flame illuminated half of Trinity’s face and the patch of matted blood clotting her long chestnut hair. Misted breath escaped her slightly-parted chapped lips. The tops of her ears and the tip of her button nose glowed in the cold. Her red-rimmed green eyes scanned the dark woods ahead to her friend Becca.
Sixteen years old, Becca Ryan was taller and prettier than Trinity. Like her mother, Becca had long, lush, rich brown hair that matched her alluring eyes. She walked with her shoulders slumped and head down. Handcuffs bound her hands tightly behind her back.
Distinct gunshots popped in the distance. Any one of those bullets could’ve just killed their parents. Trinity set her shoulders with determination and marched forward, focusing on what she could control: her own survival.
Selena prodded her with the knife. “That’s more like it.” She leaned to Trinity’s ear and whispered, “Logan likes dutiful girls.”
Trinity shuddered. She didn’t know Logan, but she didn’t want to meet him. However, the last time she tried to escape, Selena swiftly grabbed the side of her head and dashed it against the wall of Allen’s basement. The move was so quick, Trinity didn’t know she was on the ground until Becca was crying and hunched over her, guarding her with her own body. They weren’t sisters by blood, but by friendship. Selena used this loyalty to her advantage, cuffing Becca and using Trinity as the whipping girl anytime one of them of acted up. Selena told them to be silent as she led them out of Uncle Allen’s basement.
Becca walked a pace in front of Trinity. She glanced over her shoulder with an alert expression, making sure she was still going the right way. Selena smiled arrogantly at her. Scared, Becca swiftly turned her face forward.
Selena walked with swagger, despite her allies currently being killed by Trinity’s uncle. Anger surged to Trinity’s face. Allen will kill you, too, she thought spitefully. Just you wait.
Selena made them walk for hours. The serpentine woman seemed unfazed by the hike’s physical toll as they moved deeper into the Shenandoah Valley.
Shorter than Becca and standing eye level with Trinity, Selena was about five-foot-five. Lean with hard muscle, she wore a tight black winter jacket with a black-on-black quilted pattern on the shoulders, black winter pants, and black boots on her tiny feet. Her black bangs were cut in a straight line across her sharp eyebrows. Her hungry eyes were venomous green. Her lips were naturally red with a coy, lopsided smile. As quiet as a breath, she moved with the relaxed nature of a cat. She had used her stealthy nature to break into Allen’s house, stealing Cathleen’s jewelry, Conner’s prized shotgun, Dean’s supplies, and various items from Allen’s basement. The robberies would’ve continued if Trinity’s mother hadn’t discovered Selena in the basement about a week ago. Selena’s people—the Scrapers, as Allen called them—had been preparing for tonight’s assault ever since. Trinity thought her side was winning but had no way of knowing, being down in the basement the whole battle.
Becca wobbled as she walked. A moment later, she crashed to the snowy forest floor.
Trinity stopped and watched her unmoving friend.
Unimpressed, Selena stared at Becca. “Get up.”
Becca didn’t respond.
Selena stomped on the back of Trinity’s knee. Yelping, she collapsed to a kneeling position. Selena grabbed a fistful of Trinity’s hair. The other hand methodically twirled the long knife. “Don’t make me hurt the poor girl.”
Feeling the hair tugging at her scalp, Trinity fought a tear and begged, “Becca, please.”
The wind filled in the silence.
Selena pulled Trinity’s hair. She let out a cry. Selena spoke over it. “See? It’s your fault this is happening.”
Becca didn’t move.
With an exasperated sigh, Selena tossed Trinity aside like a piece of trash. “Wait here.”
Trinity stayed in the dirt and snow as Selena marched up to Becca and rolled her over. Selena sat on Becca’s belly and patted her cheek. “Wake up.”
Getting no response, Selena pried open Becca’s eyelid.
Sniffling, Trinity sat up. Her body trembled. She glared at Selena and squeezed the lantern handle so hard her knuckles bleached white. Quietly, she pushed herself to her feet. Her legs ached, but thinking of all the times she’d seen her mother’s strength empowered her. She moved silently toward Selena and prepared for the strike.
Back turned to Trinity, Selena drew out a small vial from her pocket. It had the diameter of a rolled dollar bill and was filled with white powder. Trinity may have been young, but D.A.R.E. class had taught her what cocaine looked like.
Selena popped off the vial’s top.
Teeth chattering from cold and fear, Trinity raised the lantern, knowing she had one shot to knock out the woman.
Selena poured out some powder on Becca’s upper lip. “Don’t miss.”
Lantern hovering above her head, Trinity froze.
Selena spoke calmly. “Go on. Give it a try. Knocking me out might be your best shot at escape.”
Trinity’s heart thumped heavily.
The heat from the glass seared her palms.
“But…” Selena said coyly. “If you fail, I’ll make you regret not killing me.”
After a long moment of hesitation, Trinity let the lantern fall. It plopped gently in a pile of snow. Like a sinking ship, it stopped halfway out of the powdery snow. Angry tears rolled down Trinity’s cheeks, knowing that she had failed her friend and her mother.
Selena forced Becca to snort the coke. After a moment, Becca’s eyes shot open. Her pupils dilated to the size of dimes.
Selena got off her, grabbed
Trinity cast down her gaze. Selena walked to her, stopped for a second, and then slapped her with the back of her hand.
Trinity staggered as hot pain spiked her cheek.
Selena picked up the lantern and shoved it into Trinity’s hands. “Start walking.”
Becca, with her new burst of energy, moved at a brisk pace.
They arrived at the scrapyard in a deep part of the woods. Three lines of razor wire ran along the top of the chain-link fence. Within, dirt roads snaked through piles of junk metal and crushed cars, eventually ending in front of a pill-shaped workshop and a simple two-story house at the center. In the far distance, beyond the shops, was a colonial-style mansion that overlooked the scrapyard. It was nearly invisible in the night.
Selena approached the gate to the scrapyard.
Two armed men stepped out from behind junked cars. They had pistols on their belts and shotguns slung on their back.
“Good morning, boys,” Selena said with her lopsided smile. “I got you some presents.”
The two men exchanged knowing looks and grinned. One of them unlocked the gate and pulled it open.
Using the point of her knife, Selena guided Trinity inside. Becca looked around anxiously. She was as jumpy as a rabbit and fidgety. As the morning sun breached the horizon, the itchy raw skin became visible under her tight handcuffs.
The men closed and locked the gate behind them.
Selena led the girls to the simple two-story house. She knocked rhythmically on the door. An angry-looking armed man opened it. Selena slipped her knife back into the leather sheath on her belt. “Tell Logan I’m here.”
“Where are the men from Madison?” the angry man said, his broad frame taking up most of the doorway.
Selena put a hand on her hip. “That’s for Logan to know. Not you.”
The man frowned.
Selena pressed her body against his. “Don’t worry, Bobby.” She brushed the back of her fingers against his cheek’s stubble. “I’ll make it up to you later.”
Bobby’s frown lessened. He stepped aside.
Selena beckoned the girls to enter.
They stepped into the grimy living room, getting a whiff of body odor and old trash. There were three couches set in a disconnected triangle around a coffee table covered with unwashed dishes, bongs, bags of marijuana, a brick of cocaine, needles, pills, a gas mask, and an unfinished game of Monopoly. A few underdressed individuals slept on the couches.
Seated lazily at the nearby kitchen table, a topless man with intricate full body tattoos showing off a graphic depiction of Dante’s nine circles of hell turned to Trinity with his heavy-lidded, multi-colored eyes. He unashamedly snorted a line of cocaine from the crumby table as he watched her.
Pulse pounding, Trinity quickly turned her gaze to her feet.
Selena knocked on the basement door.
A small sliding hatch opened and a woman’s eyes glared back.
Selena smiled. “Got some more dolls.”
The sliding hatch closed.
A lock clicked.
The door opened and the large woman behind it stepped aside.
Old stairs led to an illuminated basement.
Selena beckoned Becca in first.
Becca shook her head. “No. Please.”
With her palm, Selena cuffed her on the side of her head. Becca yelped.
Head hung low, she started down the stairs.
Every step felt like she was descending into the bowels of the underworld. Illuminated by dozens of red candles, various chain-link cages lined the walls. They smelled of wet dog, sweat, and urine.
Scrunching her nose, Trinity passed by a cage full of hungry hunting hounds. Showing their sharp yellow teeth and spotted gums, they snarled at her.
Trinity pressed close to Becca.
After the dog cages were two large pens with mattresses and blankets on the floor. Two dozen females between the ages twelve and fifty huddled up against the back wall. Dark circles underlined their heavy-lidded, glossy eyes. They had bruises and busted lips. Some of their clothes were torn. They looked like they were in a catatonic state.
Trinity’s instincts told her to run.
Taking no time to think, she twisted back and slammed the side of the lantern against Selena’s cheeks.
The woman screamed as shards of glass ripped the flesh on the right side of her face. Her back hit against the dog cage. The hounds barked wildly and nipped at her rear end.
Tossing aside the shattered lantern, Trinity called Becca’s name and dashed for the stairs without looking back. The burly woman guarding it charged down the steps and tried to grab her. Trinity slipped under her arms and bolted up the steps, tasting her freedom.
Suddenly, the door flung open, causing Trinity to stumble backwards a step.
A handsome man stood in the threshold. He had a thin blond beard, trimmed eyebrows, and combed-back hair. His jaw was well defined. His eyes were deep blue and sharp enough to pierce the heart. His hands rested in the pockets of his sheepskin bomber jacket. A belt with a large buckle, blue jeans, and high-laced work boots made up his lower half. He raised an inquisitive brow at Trinity.
“You’re new,” he said with a silky voice.
The large female guard suddenly wrapped her arms around Trinity and grabbed her in a painful back hug.
Trinity thrashed and screamed, “Let go! Let me go!”
As the woman pulled Trinity back down the steps, Logan leisurely followed, his boots clacking on every wooden stair.
Picking glass from the right side of her face, Selena stepped out from among the cages. Her arrogance had morphed into sharp anger. She held a jagged, blood-stained shard of glass in her hand. “That little twit ruined me, Logan.”
Like a terrified fawn, Trinity bounced her wide eyes between them. She noticed that Becca was un-cuffed and in the cage with the other women.
Logan looked at Selena and spoke earnestly. “You’re beautiful.”
Selena’s hard expression softened.
Logan walked to her, gently brushed some of her hair behind her ear, and kissed her bloody cheek.
Selena moaned in a strange mix of pain and pleasure.
When he finished, Logan wiped the blood from his lips with the top of his hand and turned his piercing eyes to Trinity. “How old are you, girl?”
The large female guard loosened her grip slightly so Trinity could speak.
“E-eleven,” Trinity lied.
Logan cracked a smile and looked back at Selena. “You let an eleven-year-old girl get the best of you?” he teased.
Selena kept her mouth shut and picked out a crumb-sized piece of glass from her torn flesh.
Logan directed his attention to the female guard. “Put her in the cage with her gorgeous friend. I’ll pay them a visit when things settle.”
Trinity tried to squirm out of the guard’s grip as she was pulled deeper into the basement.
Logan took Selena gently by the elbow and led her to the stairs. “Let’s talk about last night’s ambush…” The sound of his voice faded the farther away he got.
The guard tossed Trinity into the cage. Her chin bounced on the concrete.
The door was locked with a definitive ca-chunk!
Trinity scooted back from the gate, but not far enough to join the huddle of drugged women. Becca cried into her shoulder. Trinity stroked her hair.
Face pale and glistening with grimy sweat, Becca whispered with a broken voice. “We’re going to die in here, Trinity. I can feel it.”
The sky turned from black to purple to streaks of crimson blazing across stretched clouds. Shadowy mountains stood in the distance. Silence hovered in the snow-drenched Shenandoah Valley.
A few miles away from the small town of Grave Mills, Virginia, a winding dirt road snaked to a bullet-ridden house.
The twelve-foot high protective wooden fence lay in burnt shambles.
Snow blanketed the yard and cocooned cadavers in Pompeii-style tombs.
Jagged glass shards jutted behind the house’s window bars.
With wood splintered around the lock, the front door was kicked open.
Snow spilled inside the entrance hall that led to the ajar basement door.
The rickety steps led down to rows of shelves lined with canned foods, jam-filled mason jars, water bottles, medication, and many more items one would need to live in comfortable solitude for the next fifty years.
Thirty-nine-year old psychologist Naomi Baxter sobbed in the dark of the far corner. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a taut ponytail. Her hooded blue insulated winter jacket conformed to her lean frame. Blood crusted on the bottom of her boots. A loaded shotgun rested next to her.
Propping the back of her head against the cold wall behind her, she lifted the tufts of Trinity’s hair to her eye line. Despite sitting amidst countless supplies, she felt hollow and penniless. Her daughter, the very thing she loved more than life, was gone.
After a long stretch of silence, something inside her prompted her to rise up.
Reluctantly, she snatched her shotgun and dragged her feet to the basement stairs.
The evening’s events replayed in her mind like snapshots from a rapid-fire camera.
During last night’s dinner, the Ryan family, who Naomi had saved from Philadelphia, turned against her brother Allen after learning about the hidden supply cache he’d denied them. It was only the sight of the unexpected intruders that kept the two families from killing each other. The next thing Naomi knew, Molotov cocktails were being dashed against the protective fence outside, and she was engaged in a pulse-pumping firefight. Bullets zipped overhead as she retreated into the house where Cathleen Ryan, Becca’s mother, took a bullet and died. Soon after, Naomi lost track of her husband, brother, and the surviving Ryans. It wasn’t until morning that she found her daughter and Becca Ryan had vanished. If not for the blood and tufts of hair, she might’ve assumed they’d run away.